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FIELD NOTES The Return of the Swans E


ach year in early spring the Arctic plays host to


countless birds who have travelled from afar to make the arduous journey north- wards to mate, nest and rear young. Amongst the largest, and without a doubt the most graceful,


are the swans. Canada’s Arctic is home to two species of


swan: the more widespread tundra swan and its larger cousin, the trumpeter swan. Adults of both sexes sport identical white feathers whereas the young maintain their dusty-grey plumage for up to two years. The iron-rich marshes in some locations across the North are responsible for staining the heads and neck feathers of adults a rusty-red colour. Both species spend the winter months in


lower British Columbia and throughout the States. In late March they gather in large flocks to begin their journey northwards. Along the way they make a few refuelling stops wherever open water provides them with refuge, aquatic plants and invertebrates. Within a matter of a few short weeks the swans will separate from the flock and fly off in pairs to their summer breeding grounds in the marshes and lakes throughout the High North. Swans pair with mates for life, with pair bonding usually taking place in the autumn. Nesting begins as soon as the snow has begun to melt. Both species prefer to build


nests on muskrat houses or on elevated hum- mocks adjacent to marshes or ponds. The male, referred to as the pen, is aggressive in defending his territory while the female (cob) incubates her clutch of four to six eggs for up to 40 days. The young (cygnets) are led to open water shortly after hatching. There, they begin to feed on aquatic insects and other inverte- brates before switching their diet to aquatic plants. The cygnets will spend their first year with their parents and have been known to return with them the following spring. What a sight it is to see the first of the swans return each year in spring. Their French


horn like calls, their elegant flight displays and constant chattering signals the end of another winter in Canada’s North.


Claus Vogel


The author would like to thank Sandra Cashin for her generosity in loaning him “Besty Lou”. Without her, Claus would not have been able to photograph these impressive birds or have endured so many ‘misadventures’. Thank you Sandra. More swan images can be seen on his website www.tradewindsphoto.ca.


July/August 2011


above & beyond


55


© CLAUS VOGEL (2)


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